With the season opener for baseball near, the Houston Astros will be gearing up to defend their first ever World Series title. The Los Angeles Dodgers are determined to get back to the World Series and bring back a World Series title back to LA for the first time in 30 years. Outfielder Giancarlo Stanton of the New York Yankees, starting pitcher Yu Darvish of the Chicago Cubs and outfielder J.D. Martinez of the Boston Red Sox will begin their first seasons with their teams respectively. I will be writing articles for each division in each of the two leagues. Let’s start with the American League East Division.
1. Boston Red Sox
Despite the New York Yankees making significant moves to strengthen their team, I think it is the Red Sox’s spot to lose. They won the division last year and while it was a bumpy journey, the Red Sox are starting fresh with a new manager in former Astros bench coach, Alex Cora. I look at Cora similarly to what the Dodgers’ manager, Dave Roberts, brings to LA. Cora and Roberts are players’ coaches. It helps that Cora has played baseball before in Boston as a member of the Red Sox so he knows the levels of expectations and that is to be the best team in the division. Chris Sale is in his second season with the team and is expected to continue to dominate opponents and will lead the starting rotation that consists of David Price, Rick Porcello, Drew Pomeranz and Brian Johnson. Price and Porcello are expected to rebound from a horrible 2017. Closer Craig Kimbrel is going to be on a mission to return to elite status form after choking in the first round against the Astros in the playoffs. Longtime veteran second baseman Dustin Pedroia will return in May after he recovers from knee surgery, so utility man, Eduardo Nunez, will play in his spot in the meantime. The young offensive core (outfielders Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi, and shortstop Xander Bogaerts) returns with another season under their belts. It will be interesting how young starting third baseman Rafael Devers will take on the rigorous 162 game schedule. Will he continue his hot hitting when he was called up late last season? Or go through a sophomore type of slump? Key free agent acquisition, outfielder J.D. Martinez, will be the latest member of the Red Sox to try to fill in the big shoes in the designated hitter spot left behind by future Hall of Famer David Ortiz. Martinez should feel no pressure because Martinez has the bat to fulfill it, and his bat will do very well in Fenway Park.
2. New York Yankees
The Yankees were big players in the offseason, with the acquisitions of star outfielder slugger Giancarlo Stanton, durable players in third baseman Brandon Drury and second baseman Neil Walker. Stanton is expected to receive the bulk of at-bats at the designated hitter slot while also splitting some time in the outfield when an outfielder needs to breather. Stanton makes the lineup so dangerous with the likes of star catcher Gary Sanchez, star outfielder Aaron Judge and in my eyes, breakout star shortstop Didi Gregorius. It will interesting to see if Judge will be able to cut down his strikeout rate. He could become a superstar if he cuts the strikeouts down and aims for more extra base hits, not just home runs. Longtime veteran outfielder Bret Gardner is relied on for his leadership on this team with his professionalism. Closer Ardolis Chapman is still one of the best closers in the game, if the starting rotation consisting of Luis Severino, Mashiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery can pitch well, going at least 6 + innings, the Yankees will be in good hands. Severino and Tanaka showed glimpses of possibly becoming the next ace on the staff last year. If they can continue to show those glimpses, the Bronx Bombers will be playing neck to neck with the Red Sox for first place. I expect the Yankees to at least get a hold of one of the two wildcard spots, but I wouldn’t rule out the Yankees swooping in on first place. I expect Stanton the offense to deliver, but it all relies on their starting pitching.
3. Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have a formidable team, but with the Red Sox and Yankees ahead of them, the Blue Jays, at best can try to compete for one of the two wildcard spots. The Blue Jays will need to rely heavily on star third baseman slugger Josh Donaldson and 2017 all-star first baseman Justin Smoak and veteran designated hitter Kendrys Morales to carry the offense. I think a key piece that the Blue Jays will really need if they want to keep up in the division is veteran shortstop Troy Tulowitzki needs to stay completely healthy and produce. If Tulowitzki can get back to his Colorado Rockies days, it would be huge for the Blue Jays. Starting pitcher and ace Marcus Stroman will be pitching with a chip on his shoulder as he lost his arbitration case after giving the team a number that he thought he should earn, the Blue Jays countered and won. I think it will be good for Stroman because he could be even better this year in order to get the payday that he wants. Likewise for starting pitcher Marco Estrada except he has something to prove after a horrible 2017. Starting pitchers Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ are expected to provide the consistency that keeps the rotation afloat. Blue Jays have a team, if they can put it all together, they will be a team to watch.
4. Baltimore Orioles
I would have put the Orioles in the third spot, but the Blue Jays have better pitching than the Orioles do. A starting rotation of Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, Chris Tillman and Alex Cobb doesn’t scare me. Gausman as the ace is scary in terms of why he should be there. I see Gausman in the middle of the rotation and I think he would fare better on a different team where he doesn’t have wear the ace label so heavily. I appreciate the free agency additions of Cashner and Cobb to the rotation, but in a tough division, I think those pitchers will struggle in their first season with the Orioles, despite the experience from Cobb’s pitching days with the Rays. Superstar Manny Machado will begin his first season as the starting shortstop going into his free agency year. I like that Machado was given the chance by manager Buck Showalter to play his old position, it shows that Orioles will do anything to make Machado happy, but despite whatever results that Machado puts up, he is going to leave Baltimore after the season. The Orioles will be relying on Machado, fellow all-star second baseman Jonathan Schoop and former all-star first baseman Chris Davis to carry the team with the offense heavily as the starting rotation will struggle as they pitch in a hitter-friendly park, Camden Yards.
5. Tampa Bay Rays
At as much as teams and their fan bases hate hearing this, but the Rays will be going through another season of player development. The Rays traded their longtime third baseman Evan Longoria to the San Francisco Giants. They also released 2017 all-star outfielder/designated hitter Corey Dickerson. The team also traded one of their power sluggers in outfielder Steven Souza Jr. to the Arizona Diamondbacks. First baseman Logan Morrison who was their home run slugger didn’t return to Tampa Bay after posting an all-star type of season. These are all signs of the Rays wanting to go young and develop their team for the future. Starting center fielder Kevin Kiermaier was not happy with all the moves the Rays made in the offseason after placing third in the East in 2017. He might ask for a trade if the team isn’t winning. What the Rays got going for them is the development of star ace Chris Archer, but even then he might request a trade if he wants to win now. The Rays are going to be in for another long season.
The American League East Division use to be one of the toughest division to play in back in the early 2000s. The race for the division title will be between the Red Sox, the Yankees, and the Blue Jays. I expect it to be a close toss up between Boston and New York for first and second place spots, with the Red Sox barely winning out. Toronto will compete for one of the two wildcard spots. While the Orioles and Rays will look into developing their teams for the future. Next, I will be writing the American Central Division predictions so be sure to be on the lookout for the article at the Utility Man!
Let us know what your thoughts are on the American League East Division predictions by tweeting your thoughts @TheUtilityMan17 on Twitter!